Dr. Steven L. Jacobs is Professor and Aaron Aronov Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies at The University of Alabama. His primary research foci are in Biblical Studies, translation and interpretation, including the Dead Sea Scrolls; as well as Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
In the December 14, 2018 issue of The Chronicle Review, Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago penned a piece entitled “Go Ahead, Cite the Nazi” (B2).* His unnecessarily provocative argument as summarized by his disingenuous solution— “cite work that is relevant regardlessof the author’s [sic] misdeeds—was made even more disturbing by his conclusion, “you should not—under any circumstances—adjust your citation practices to punish scholars for [sic] bad behavior” (emphases added). Even more problematic was his total failure to address any notion of historical contextualization regarding the work of the philosophers he cites,Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)—the former an avowed antisemite and the latter an unrepentant Nazi, both of whom he rather cavalierly dismisses, choosing only to celebrate their “contributions” to philosophy. In my own field of religious studies, a “softer” but nonetheless equally problematic case would be that of Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), a formerly avowed Christian nationalist and supporter of the Romanian Iron Guard during World War II.
I know a lot of people who don’t sanction the old religious studies vs. theology distinction anymore — to them, the once distinguishable pursuits are better understood to bleed into one another, are mutually informing, are close cousins, or maybe even the very same thing and so to try to differentiate them is a sad testament to the authenticity of the people and the experiences under study. Scholarship, in this mode, is akin to dialogue, a mutually beneficial conversation, an exploration of our common humanity. Continue reading →
Like some of you, I woke today to an email soliciting submissions for a special issue of the open access online journal Open Theology. The email opened as follows:
A person who reads texts from other religious traditions sometimes encounters what the reader understands to be a transcendent encounter with ultimacy. Encounters with the ultimate – not only with texts but also with practices and persons – need to be taken into account theologically….
Now, I’m not going to harp on why a scholar of religion received this email but, instead, say that theologians of course have every right to pursue such lines of inquiry. That many who identify as scholars of religion yet use that old Tillichian nugget “ultimacy” is indeed a problem, I’d argue, but even that’s not what occurred to me as I first read that message. Instead, two other things dawned on me: (1) how nicely the call makes evident the second order work going on when people study other people — or the things those people produce or leave behind, such as texts, and (2) how quickly we often forget that our analysis is not simply innocent description of so-called facts on the ground. Continue reading →
It was a bit tongue-in-cheek to be sure, but it made a good point, I think, as he elaborated in a few tweets that followed, such as his claim that “religious studies has theorized myth since its foundation & has a set of theoretical tools useful in the case of confederate monuments.” Continue reading →
As I remarked to someone on Facebook some years ago, all it takes is a slight tweak in some of our cherished texts in the study of religion to make plain how problematic the work actually is — i.e., how deeply embedded the argument is in a set of presumptions about the world that likely need to be examined instead of simply assumed.
Case in point: consider replacing the words “sacred” and “profane” as follows in this famous passage:
If we should attempt to summarize the result of the descriptions that have been presented in this chapter, we could say that the experience of funny space makes possible the “founding of the world”: where the funny manifests itself in space, the real unveils itself, the world comes into existence. But the irruption of the funny does not only project a fixed point into the formless fluidity of humorless space, a center into chaos; it also effects a break in plane, that is, it opens communication between the cosmic planes (between earth and heaven) and makes possible ontological passage from one mode of being to another. It is such a break in the heterogeneity of humorless space that creates the center through which communication with the trans-serious is established, that, consequently, founds the world, for the center renders orientation possible. Hence the manifestation of the funny in space has a cosmological valence; every spatial asteiophany [Greek asteios, funny] or humorification of a space is equivalent to a cosmogony. The first conclusion we might draw would be: the world becomes apprehensible as world, as cosmos, in the measure in which it reveals itself as a funny world.
Source: Mircea Eliade, Chapter 2 of The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1959).
This is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.
Much like the earlier post on doing human subjects research, we find a truism enshrined in the draft document’s eighth bullet point (at least in the opening clause; I include the ninth also since it too is related):
I’m not sure if there are many scholars out there who decline to provide an account of what they’re up to — it would not be difficult to understand conference presentations, publications, and even the teaching that we do to be doing just that. So I’m unsure why this needs to be included as one of the thirteen obligations the AAR’s committee sees fit to put into their document. Even paying attention to the threefold grouping into which they divide this reporting — our research questions, methods, and findings — isn’t innovative and therefore doesn’t help to clarify why this item was included; for this reads as if it was offering instructions to a lower level undergraduate students on how to write a research paper.
In fact, given that this is pretty much what we, as scholars, all already do, without being told to, it’s somewhat surprising that we also weren’t advised to have a thesis when we write a paper. Continue reading →
I wrote a post recently in which I critiqued a new book by Brent Plate, saying it (along with other developments in the field, such as the turn toward so-called embodied or lived religion) was evidence that the work of Eliade was still representative of the field, no matter how much distance some may claim separates us today from when he first wrote many of his now famous studies in the history of religions (that is, back in the 1950s). I was lucky enough to have Brent comment on the post and a brief back-and-forth resulted, during which he posted the following comment:
In October of 2013 I wrote a post elsewhere on how recent advances in the study of religion — studying so-called lived or material religion and religion on the ground — were but new names for a very old way of studying religion; for although many now opt for more empirically-sounding “embodiment” over what we once called “manifestation,” there’s still the presumption that the material is merely the domain in which the immaterial is projected, whether we call the intangible it spirit or meaning. Continue reading →
So, did you catch that Prof. Altman‘s recent post on Mircea Eliade (which was linked here) was just quoted on Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Maybe you’ve seen Sullivan on TV as a political commentator or maybe you follow his blog — he’s certainly got a national media profile.
But did you read Mike’s original post? If so, what do you think of the particular quote from it that appeared on The Dish? Is this what Mike’s article was about…? Was it a tribute to Eliade and studying religion “on its own terms”?
So, in this case, was The Dish biased or balanced?